Conservative Viewpoints

"Government is not the solution…it is the problem" -Ronald Reagan



  • ReoAd

    mainstreet_ad_pdf.jpg

    C&LPhoto

Lucente, Scott discuss West End Fire Station

Posted by Stephen on March 5, 2007

This is a comprehensive report on the issue of the proposed West End Fire Station.

Once again, citizens of Waynesboro, and their city council, are being asked to consider the need and creation of a fire station on the west end of the city. In a recent work session Fire Chief Charles Scott presented the city with reasons he believes Waynesboro needs to add an additional sub station costing tax payers approximately 2.1 million dollars with an annual cost of 600 thousand dollars to operate.

However, Frank Lucente, a noted fiscal conservative, believes more discussion needs to take place before investing what he calls “precious tax payer dollars” into the long term investment of an additional fire station.

“I believe fire protection is one of the fundamental reasons for government. I am not against a fire station on the west end,” stated an emphatic Lucente, who added, “I just asked them to tell me why I should support it.”

Lucente feels a need to speak out publicly because, as he asserts, “the only pressure I’m getting on this issue is from the fire department, city staff and council. I’m not hearing citizens tell me there is a need, and I’m talking to as many as I can.”

Lucente is clearly concerned about a knee jerk reaction by city council that may be focusing on the emotional argument. “Who says no to a fire department? It’s not easy saying no, or even asking questions about it. When you do you get beat up over it. I just want them to justify the expense.”

The ISO Report

The main source of supportive research being used by parties for and against the endeavor is the 2004 Insurance Survey Office Report (ISO).

Lucente points to this 30 page document presented to council as the best argument against the need to build the station now, or in the immediate future. Chief Scott feels the ISO report sets standards for safety and efficiency that Waynesboro Fire Department (WFD) is not meeting.

The report is a complicated numbers system that reports on the status of fire departments around the nation. It is a difficult document to grapple with. The findings and terminology used suggests that the report sets up a pass/fail standard in a number of categories related to fire safety and protection. Lucente finds the numbers provide numerous opportunities to improve the fire departments standing without investing what will amount to hundreds of millions of dollars annually.

“We are in the top 10 percent of fire companies in the United States as a class four fire station,” says Lucente. “We are only three points from being a class three station, and there are many ways to achieve a class three status without building a new station right now,” he adds, “Why don’t we try the little things that will improve our efficiency and see where we are before we commit tax payer dollars to a long term investment?”

In fact, the class four rating that Waynesboro receives is achieved by only 6.9 percent of fire stations that ISO rates. A class three is achieved by less then three percent and a class two by only .7 percent nation wide. In fact only 1 in 1000 fire stations achieve a class one rating. Chief Scott states that these numbers in fact point out that “by these numbers not only are we not failing, we are actually doing quite well, but we could do better.”

Chief Scott explains that ISO is an organization that establishes and weighs standards for municipalities that includes dispatch, handling and receiving alarms, and the community’s water suppression and capabilities. According to Scott, ISO does not care what the city’s rating is.

“They are not going to say ‘you are a city of this size so you should be this’, that’s not what they do. They are going to rate what they find on the basis of their rating schedule. What they do with that information, however, is distribute that information upon request to the insurance companies that will set premiums for you and I and for businesses,” shares Scott.

The report, according to Scott, “is what it is,” and the report simply states where improvements can be made and does not provide a pass/fail statement.

Still, Lucente feels if the report signifies that Waynesboro achieves 1.5 pts out of a possible 5 points, as it does for Credit for Dispatch Circuits, then the department is certainly not achieving what it could in that category.

Lacking Dispatch Circuits and what that means

Dispatch circuits are the means of notification that the department uses to communicate with firefighters and emergency response personnel.

Lucente states that if we were to improve in this category alone, the WFD would move to a class three station, and in fact would also place us in compliance with National Fire Protection Associate Standard (NFPA) 1221. Lucente has stated publicly that he feels this is an issue with our dispatch times. “Our call time receives only 1.5 out of a possible five points. We need to improve here.”

Upon closer inspection of the ISO report, Credit for Dispatch Circuits, which Lucente refers to, is separate from Credit for Operators, which reviews the number of on-duty operators at the communication center to handle fire calls.

“Our current dispatch center, I believe, is similar in nature to us in that they have set criteria through national standards. To my knowledge they meet those standards in the way of dispatch time, which simply means that 90 percent of the time they are receiving and dispatching of calls happens within 90 seconds. There is not an issue nor is this evaluation by ISO implying that at all. My report refers to dispatch time so that everyone understands that it is only part of the total of Response Time,” said Scott.

Credit for Dispatch Circuits refers to the means of notification. To get full points the WFD needs to have two forms of notification. Currently, the department has one which is a fire frequency that is dispatched by 9-11 which can be received by radio pagers and/or portable radios. Another means of notification, needed to build in redundancy, would be needed. One popular solution is alpha-numeric paging.

The challenge of adding the paging system centers on its need to be independent. It is not a process that can be contracted out. Waynesboro would have to purchase their own server so that the department would have full control over their own system and not fall in a pecking order as would be the case if, say, a company like Metro-Call provided the service.

Purchasing an independent server is not cost effective.

“Getting your own server is a major expense. Then you have to consider coverage area and renting towers and things and it’s just not cost effective,” said Scott. According to Scott, the cost is speculated to be in the hundreds of thousands to complete such a project, and he adds that “a large number” of stations nationwide do not meet this standard.

Insurance Costs

During Scott’s presentation to City Council, he mentioned the ability for Waynesboro to receive improved insurance rates if the WFD ascended to a class three status. The report that Scott provided Council mentions the effect a fire station on the west end would have on insurance rates. However, the comments mentioned in the report are inconsistent ranging from “…resulting in cost savings,” to “potentially reduce insurance premiums,” to “…lowering our classification results in a direct savings in insurance premiums citywide.”

Lucente found the mixed messages to also be inconsistent with his findings.

“I have asked a large insurance company about rates tied to this report. Class one through class four provide the same rate; there’s no difference. Our insurance rates in Waynesboro are the best we can get for our residential customers,” said Lucente.

For Lucente, these findings were crucial. He intended on supporting a more aggressive approach to the fire station when he believed it would assist residents with insurance costs. “I was on board when I thought we could save people some money, but now I find that is not the case.”

Scott does not disagree with Lucente’s findings. “Mr. Lucente is absolutely correct if you look at it from strictly a residential standpoint. In most cases classes one through four, and sometimes even six in some regions, maintain the same rates for insurance premiums. However, commercial premiums, across the board, our findings have been that each step, or class, results in monetary savings with an understanding that not every insurance company uses ISO to set premiums.”

Commercial premiums, applied to businesses throughout the community, could benefit from class improvements by the WFD. Unlike residential rates which are static from class one through four, commercial rates are adjusted for individual classes. For example, moving from a class four to a three could save businesses 150-200 thousand dollars city wide, and from a four to a two the savings could amount to more then three hundred thousand dollars city wide.

Location

Addressing where a station is to be built, if the city deems it necessary, is as important as addressing the funding plan. If built on land that is not strategically located, the city could actually find itself in worse shape.

The report Scott introduced to Council states that a fire station operating on Lew DeWitt would increase coverage in the city by 18 percent. The speculation is based on locations a fire fighter can reach that are within 1.5 road miles from the station. The use of “road miles” is an important distinction because it then is not based on a circumference around the station.

Lucente points out that, “a West end station only increases our service by 18 percent which still leaves 54 percent of the city uncovered and it provides zero insurance benefits to the city residents.”

Scott said his report is misleading. “I wrote the report, and I failed in that,” said Scott. According to Scott, ISO bases their numbers on built upon land, while his report is based on road miles. The difference is significant.

“If we look at the city based on built upon land that coverage number is going to increase dramatically. If we look at the East side of Waynesboro going up the mountain toward Delphine and so forth, and all that undeveloped land, and we take that land out of the equation then our coverage numbers will go up,” explained Scott.

There’s nothing to say that the 18 percent for West side coverage would improve dramatically under the new calculation, considering that most of the land on that side of the city where coverage is articulated is developed. However, the coverage of the current station may increase dramatically because of its proximity to undeveloped land.

Regardless, Scott is confident that there is no better place. “Trust me, we have looked everywhere, and that location on Lew Dewitt is the best possible location for the city.”

Lucente believes, “that’s a lot of money to invest to increase service 18 percent while not saving residents on insurance premiums. That’s a high cost for such a small return.”

Training

The ISO report states that WFD receives 4.77 points out of a possible ten points for training, coming up more then five points short.

When anyone hears the word training alarm bells go off and red flags go up. Like education of our children, training is seen as fundamental to the success of the city’s staff and safety.

“I don’t know why we leave these points on the table but we have to fix that,” said Lucente, who added “if we improve our training numbers and add staff and pre-emptive devices we would be a class three. We can do that without investing in a long term commitment of tax payer dollars.”

In the case of the ISO report, training is not necessarily a literal term. The ISO report does not suggest that Waynesboro firefighters are untrained or lack ability. Quite the contrary. According to Scott, WFD has the highest minimum standards in the state, and as a result WFD firefighters are some of the finest first responders in the Commonwealth of Virginia.

The Training Category of the ISO report refers to pre-fire planning. The ISO recommendation is that each commercial, industrial, institutional and other similar type buildings should be inspected at least twice a year.

Waynesboro has zero inspections of this type in a given year.

Furthermore, this category calls for the creation and maintenance of structural designs that include fire sensitive information such as whether a building stores flammable material, where entrance points exist, utility hook-ups, where hydrants are etc.

“We make none,” stated Scott, “and it’s a staffing issue.”

The inspections and designs are not only critical to efficiency and safety, but also to response time when on location. Finally, the addition of the staff required to complete these inspections and creation of blue prints would place the WFD well within the score needed to move to a class three department.

Pre-emptive devices

Pre-emptive devices allow firefighters to control stop lights at intersections by a click of a button. Their function is to insure safety and control when entering busy intersections, but they do have a secondary use. They can improve response time, but how much is up for debate.

“They are not intended to increase response time. That may be a secondary result, but the device was initially created to secure the intersection, and prevent bottlenecks. I fully support the use of them, and have asked for them, but they are not going to improve response times, and certainly not in any dramatic fashion,” states Scott.

“How do we know how much time these devices will save us?” counters Lucente. He adds, “Why does Staunton have them and we don’t? We aren’t going to know how successful they can be here if we don’t try them first. It’s a lot more cost effective to install pre-emptive devices then it is to build another station.

It should be said that no jurisdiction in the region, including Staunton, has comprehensive coverage. Staunton, for example uses them in approximately two intersections in the city. The trouble with pre-emptive devices is that they are considered rather costly.

Pre-emptive devices come in two pieces, one for the light and one that resides in the vehicle. Each vehicle unit costs 2,200 dollars. Each device that connects to the street light costs 7,500 dollars per light.

The department would need to man at least 9 vehicles for a total of around 19,800 dollars. There are approximately 30 lights in Waynesboro and at 7,500 dollars per light the total would approach 225,000 dollars, which does not include the cost of installation though the installation is not labor intensive.

Auto-detection and/or suppression systems and auto reporting 911 system

Auto-detection and suppression, and auto reporting 911 systems were mentioned in the report as another tool to assist in managing and improving response times. Auto-detection is simply a smoke detector. The suppression system is defined as a sprinkler system. The auto reporting 911 system is when the fire alarm is tied directly to phone lines that send a call to 911 or a detection system managed by an outside agency who then calls 911 in response to a fire alarm.

These systems increase response times dramatically. The newest fire codes require auto-detection and suppression systems to be installed in new commercial structures, or those being renovated.

The code is based on square footage. Lowes and Home Depot, and the renovated T-Bone Jacks have them, while Applebees, Ruby Tuesday, and Ladd Elementary School does not. Other structures that currently have them include the High School and Cracker Barrel.

Response time

This is the root of the issue. Response time is where the conversation regarding a west end fire station should begin and end. The NFTA code calls for a four to eight minute response. Are we too slow, and is it worth investing hundreds of millions of tax payer dollars to improve the response the time of response?

The criteria are spelled out just as simply. The ISO report and the NFTA code states that the standard response time should be 4 minutes or less. NFTA 1710, which applies to Waynesboro because they have more career firefighters then volunteers, does state that while staff and firefighters may be away from the station preventing them from meeting the four minute mark, the 8 minute response time must always be met.

Chief Scott feels that we are not meeting the four minute requirement, but did acknowledge that the department is meeting the 8 minute time frame when it is applicable.

Staffing and personnel

Staffing does not improve response time.

Not much else needs to be stated, however, increasing the number of firefighters is critical to the safety of the men and women themselves and to the efficiency of the department once on the scene.

Furthermore, it is staffing that will allow inspections of businesses and structures, and the creation of blue prints that will help the department reach a class three status.

Additionally, if a west end station is in the offing, then it will need to be staffed through the hiring of additional personnel. “To feel comfortable staffing a sub station, I would need a minimum of 12 new hires,” said Scott.

The ISO report states that the WFD receives only 4.83 points out of a possible 15 under Credit for Company Personnel. This item reviews the average number of equivalent fire fighters and company officers on duty at a given time.

National codes call for a city the size of Waynesboro to maintain a department of 51 fire fighters. Waynesboro currently maintains a department size of 28.

It is important to note that City Council has expressed concern regarding retention rates for the department. While there is a large turnover rate, Scott stated that the department is not losing numbers. The turnover, for the most part, is due to the ability for fire fighters to gain promotion or move to larger departments that pay them better. It is not an indictment of the WFD, but rather an acknowledgement of the reality of the transient nature of first responders who, like teachers, will move to where the greater opportunity exists.

Lucente, for his part, supports an increase in personnel. “I have no problem with hiring more fire fighters. I think we need to and I told Charlie that.”

The Choices

In the end, the goal of Scott and Lucente are the same. Both men want to improve the performance of the WFD. Both men want to protect the citizens of Waynesboro and want what is best for all involved.

Scott’s focus is on the addition of a west end fire station to improve response time and save the citizens money, resources and lives.

Lucente’s focus is on attempting to accomplish a series of benchmarks illustrated in the ISO report to improve response time and save the citizens money, resources and lives.

One focused on supporting a report that calls for an expansion of his services. The other is shouldering the responsibility of addressing the use of hundreds of millions of dollars of tax payer funds in what will be a lifetime investment for the city.

Their responsibilities are great and their arguments are clear. The question to be answered is, what path is best for the City of Waynesboro?

Stephen Winslow is the executive editor of Conservative Viewpoints.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

 
%d bloggers like this: